Longtime Heritage Tournament Information Director Arnie Burdick Dies at 92

Arnie Burdick

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- For spectators and television viewers, the Harbour Town lighthouse is the symbol of the Heritage golf tournament. But for those who make the Heritage media center their home away from home for a week each April, Arnie Burdick has been just as much of a fixture as the candy-striped tower beyond the 18th green.

Burdick, the longtime tournament information director for Hilton Head Island's PGA Tour event, died Tuesday afternoon at Hilton Head Regional Medical Center. He was 92.

“Arnie was a gentleman whose contributions have been a huge part of the success of the RBC Heritage and the Heritage Classic Foundation for more than 20 years,” tournament director Steve Wilmot said. “He will be truly missed by all of us who worked with him every day.”

After a distinguished career as a sports journalist -- he was enshrined in 1996 into the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame -- Burdick and his wife, Mimi, retired to Hilton Head Island.

His journalism background prompted Mike Stevens, then the Heritage tournament director, to approach Burdick in 1986 and ask him to become the tournament’s media relations director -- if only for a year.

Burdick worked his 29th Heritage this spring.

"He's the guy that I really associate with the tournament," said Jeff Kidd, the longtime sports editor and now news editor of The Island Packet newspaper. "It's going to be strange to walk into that media tent next year and him not be there."

In 2004, at the suggestion of local radio reporter Roger Clark, the Arnie Burdick Media Award was established. The award goes each year to a media member who has excelled in covering the Heritage over the years. The prize is a pair of thick, black glasses frames similar to those Burdick wore for many years.

Bob Gillespie, longtime golf writer for The State newspaper and the first winner of the Arnie Burdick Media Award, still keeps his pair of glasses displayed prominently on a bookcase at home.

"That's probably one of the best awards I ever got, just because of what it means coming from Arnie and the Heritage," Gillespie said.

It's no wonder that Burdick made fast friends with the journalists covering the Heritage -- he was one of them.

After playing lacrosse at Syracuse University and serving in the U.S. Army from 1941-45, Burdick returned to Syracuse as sports information director in 1947 and maintained that position until 1956.

At that point, he began his newspaper career at the Syracuse Herald-Journal, where he was sports editor and columnist for 28 years. During his tenure at the paper, Burdick was influential in establishing the Herald Amateur golf tournament and the Herald Masters bowling tournament. He also served as president of the Football Writers Association of America for a time.

He never let go of that journalism background and often imparted wisdom upon young journalists making their way in the profession.

"I didn't just hear from him around tournament time," Kidd said. "He was very engaged with the local sports community. I probably got as many ideas for local tennis stories as I got for local golf stories from him. "It was always a joy to me to get a snail mail from him that had been hammered out, probably on an old Corona typewriter, but definitely not on a word processor. He was just such a throwback. He was definitely old-school."

And for all the "curmudgeon" jokes members of the media made at Burdick's expense, he was always there with a helpful statistic or obscure fact about the tournament, a compliment about a well-written column or an under-the-table ticket to eat lunch in the sponsor's area.

"He's like an institution down there," Gillespie said. "He was always the first guy you'd see when you walked into the press area every morning. He's going to be hard to replace. He was always the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. He kind of put a face on the tournament. It won't be the same."

 

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